Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a brief hiatus from paternity leave on Wednesday to reflect on the philanthropic work he and his wife Priscilla Chan have pursued over the past year through their charitable foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
In a co-authored note on the social network, Zuckerberg and Chan emphasized the intention of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) to tackle global issues like education, disease and social justice through a “technology mindset” and a long-term strategy.
Instead of solely focusing on today’s big issues, the couple said their philanthropic vehicle will enable leaders across disciplines to find strategies for addressing scientific and social problems over the long-term.
Health care, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and housing will be dealt with over a 10- or 20-year horizon for lasting results, not short-term solutions.
Regardless, technology is the core to their strategy for achieving impact quickly. At a time when automation and misinformation on social media are prompting public skepticism and backlash, the letter read as a proclamation of the couple’s belief in technology as an essential tool for social good.
“These two aspects of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — a long term approach and a technology mindset — shape all our work,” the couple wrote. “The magic of technology is that it can help social change scale faster. And because of Mark’s experience building a world-class engineering organization at Facebook, we are in a unique position to build a philanthropy with a great engineering team to help our partners scale their social change faster as well.”
The letter highlighted education, for example, as an area that is ripe for improvement through technology. Zuckerberg and Chan pointed to their investment in personalized learning models for students, noting that tech can play a key role making such tools available.
Zuckerberg and Chan announced the formation of CZI in 2015 after the birth of their first daughter, Max. The couple set a new philanthropic benchmark when they pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook shares to support causes through their foundation. At the time, their Facebook holdings were worth $45 billion. Forbes estimates Zuckerberg’s current net worth is $72.1 billion.
In September 2016, the couple announced their goal to help cure, prevent and manage all diseases in their children’s lifetime. To do this, CZI formed the “Biohub,” a collaboration between scientists and engineers at Stanford, UCSF and Berkeley, supported by a $3-billion pledge by Zuckerberg and Chan. In Wednesday’s note, the couple acknowledged the goal may be “overly ambitious,” but referenced it as an example of how the right technical tools can translate into major long-term impact. The couple said it aims to apply its strategy for solving science problems to issues of advocacy and policy.
The foundation’s limited liability company (LLC), for-profit structure allows the couple to invest in both non-profit and for-profit entities. When CZI launched, the couple said they planned to focus the initiative on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.” The couple also promised to reinvest any profits from their investments back into the initiative.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative first investment, made in June 2016, went to a New York-based company called Andela that trains software developers in Africa, particularly in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya. In the past year, the initiative has also provided funding to Vision To Learn, a nonprofit that provides free eye exams to low income U.S. students; the College Board, which helps students prepare for college; and the Human Cell Atlas, an initiative that aims to map healthy cells in the human body, among other projects. The couple recently announced the birth of their second daughter, August.
“What makes us a good team is that we’re both optimistic about the future at a time when a lot of people don’t feel that way,” Zuckerberg and Chan wrote on Wednesday. “We believe there are answers to even the toughest problems, and one of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve built a team that believes that too.”